Will Hackers Cause Chaos on Election Day?

Rachel Eckert

passwordBy Rachel Eckert, SLED Consultant

It’s exactly three weeks from Election Day and officials are facing a serious problem. (No we’re not talking about any new recordings.)

More than 20 states have reported hacking attempts on their election systems, with specific attacks against online registration databases. While these recent attacks didn’t target actual voting or tabulation machines, a Department of Homeland Security official told NBC the attacks are serious enough to cause confusion and chaos.

It’s only a matter of time before these hackers get more aggressive. I blogged last month about the especially vulnerable nature of electronic voting systems, which can be easily hacked. About 25 percent of the United States will use electronic voting machines this year, according to a recent study by Carbon Black, an endpoint security software company. Many of these machines are “direct-recording electronic” machines, which are running on severely outdated operating systems such as Windows XP. Given that they don’t leave a paper trail as votes are cast, there can be significant problems.

FBI Director James Comey said at a recent Congressional hearing that he’s urging states to make sure their “deadbolts are thrown and their locks are on.” He’s also urging jurisdictions to undergo free cyber-hygiene scans and other assessments provided by DHS before voters head to the polls.

Pennsylvania, a key battleground state, seems to be the most at risk since it uses such a high number of direct-recording machines, according to Carbon Black. Other key battleground states, Florida and Ohio, also use direct-recording machines but Ohio does post-election audits. And both states conduct required manual recounts for close elections.

Technology companies can play a role in perhaps the 2016 election, but most likely subsequent elections by talking to jurisdictions about security and encryption measures for their electronic voting machines and the networks and databases they connect to.

Want to hear about more opportunities for technology companies in the state and local government IT market? Sign up for immixGroup’s Government IT Sales Summit, where I’ll provide an in-depth briefing on major IT spending trends.

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